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So you have an opinion. Good for you. That doesn't mean anyone needs to take it seriously.

Chiming in from 2012, Patrick Stokes reminds us that while opinions matter, they don’t necessarily need to be considered.

If “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion” just means no-one has the right to stop people thinking and saying whatever they want, then the statement is true, but fairly trivial. No one can stop you saying that vaccines cause autism, no matter how many times that claim has been disproven.

But if ‘entitled to an opinion’ means ‘entitled to have your views treated as serious candidates for the truth’ then it’s pretty clearly false. And this too is a distinction that tends to get blurred.

What Stokes is getting at is the false-equivalence between experts and non-experts on the important issues of the day, especially those that require technical, legal or scientific expertise.

It’s an important distinction to remember in a (social) media environment of instant Google experts where a critical event occurs and suddenly near everyone has an opinion about it.

War? Public health crisis? Global economic downturn? Sure, we can have opinions about them. But these opinions should be based off the consensus of those with deep subject matter expertise.

Pick a hot button topic: Our reaction to covid or the source of climate change.

Our non-expert opinions on the science of these things don’t hold a candle to the epidemiologists and climatologists who study these things. Instead, where we can start listening is when we begin discussing the policy response – what we can or should do, or how we should react – to the general consensus of those experts.

Of course, we live in a cynical age. Here in America that means an anti-science and anti-intellectual stance that’s inflamed and exploited by certain media actors and politicians.

As Tom Nichols writes in The Death of Expertise, “These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge, and yet been so resistant to learning anything.”

Thoughts? Ideas? Comments?

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